Amelia Coleman teaches fifth grade at Henry C. Lea Elementary School, a K-8 school in the School District of Philadelphia with an enrollment of approximately 450 students. Reflective of its West Philadelphia neighborhood, 90% of the students who attend Lea are African American and 85% of the student body is classified by the district as "low income." In this context, the students are central to Amelia as she makes decisions about literacy instruction. Amelia explains, "The School District of Philadelphia does have a mandated language arts curriculum, but there is room to supplement. I don’t follow a lockstep program. I take from different places. In the beginning of the year I sit down and look at what has to be accomplished according to the various frameworks and standards. Then I look at what I can do to meet those goals in ways that will reach the students, in ways that will help them connect to the work. It’s important to me that they learn how to apply their knowledge to different situations in the world, not just be able to answer questions on the PSSA (state assessment). So I try to teach in a way that brings them into the lesson and allows them to make connections to their lives." To see more about Amelia’s decision-making process and to consider ways that her site can be used in an elementary literacy classroom, visit her website.
Mattie Davis is a first grade teacher at the Frederick Douglass Elementary school in Philadelphia. Frederick Douglass is a pre-K though 8 school with a majority of students who come from challenging economic situations. Mattie has developed her teaching approach through involvement in many communities of practice, which she describes in this way: "I continually develop my approach to teaching through a lot of reading and working with people at the University of Pennsylvania, especially with the Philadelphia Writing Project, and as I said, reading and observing others. It's an amalgamation of different things. I think of Sylvia Ashton Warner years ago when I was a young woman. I read her phenomenal text, Teacher. She's having these wonderful conversations with children, letting them explore their world with reading and writing. She illustrated that it’s okay to bring the experience of the child into the classroom because that’s what they’re building upon, that our children are not just tabula rasas. They’re full of good stuff, so let’s bring that good stuff and let them see that school is not just this book knowledge but it's knowledge. I also watched my mother years ago when she taught pre-school. She would engage her students in inquiry, they didn't use the term inquiry but it was. Listening to many teachers with years of experience and also looking at the vitality of young teachers. So, all that informed what I do as well, and I'll go a little deeper with working with phenomenal teachers with the Philadelphia Writing Project."
Linda Kroll is a professor in the Teachers for Tomorrow’s Schools Program at Mills College. Her professional interests include cognitive development, the development of literacy, application of developmental theory to educational issues, teacher education, and teacher development, including development of teachers from their training throughout their careers. Although technological glitches made the use of these materials difficult this year, Linda feels that she will continue to incorporate Quest materials because of the value that she saw for her students. Linda remarked, "I was struck with how the videos did, in fact, help my students get better at being astute observers, at how having that visual text to compare to descriptive written text was an excellent way for them to think about how teaching practices get enacted in different settings. Many of the text materials I use (such as Routman and Calkins for example) come with DVDs of examples of practice. They are useful for modeling practice. These Quest videos of actual classroom practice with all the messiness that it entails allowed my students to make sense of the practices they were learning about in a setting that was real, more real than the packaged DVDs."
Gillian Maimon is a first grade teacher at the Samuel Powel Elementary School in Philadelphia. According to the latest numbers, the student population of Powel School is approximately 89% African American, 7% white, and 4% Latino, Asian, or other. In addition, a number of students are bussed into the school. Powel is officially recognized as a desegregated school because families from outside their catchment are able to apply for admission. Powel is one of very few schools in the School District of Philadelphia with a predominantly African-American student population that functions as a desegregated school. Gillian describes her literacy approach as informed by her work with the Philadelphia Teachers’ Learning Cooperative and her study of Lucy Calkins and Balanced Literacy. The question that she originally developed for her work with the Carnegie Foundation centered on the structures in her classroom, both physical and temporal. She explains, "One of my priorities as a first-grade teacher is to facilitate both independence and collaboration among my students. Predictability is key to achieving this goal. The structures in place in my classroom allow children to make choices and help shape the content of their literacy learning. There is an element of predictability to the physical, linguistic, and temporal structures in the classroom. In addition, I give careful thought to ways that curricular structures - both self-selected frames as well as mandated ones - shape my own choices as a teacher."
Jennifer Myers is a second grade teacher at Barrett Elementary, located in the Morgan Hill Unified School District in California. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from San Jose State University in May 2000. The following year, she received a Multiple Subject Clear Credential from the credential program at SJSU. In June 2003, she began the Masters program in Education at San Jose State. She earned an MA in Education from SJSU as well as earning a reading specialist credential. Her classroom has a diverse cultural population, including white, Hispanic or Latino, and African American students. In addition, several of the students are classified as English Language Learners. Barrett Elementary was established in 2001 and is located near the geographic center of Morgan Hill, CA. The school is surrounded by both new, market-rate homes and low-income housing projects. Barrett is classified as a Title I school and approximately one fifth or 21.2% of the students on site are second language learners. In addition, the mobility rate at Barrett is 32%, and the migrant population consists of only forty students out of 485 enrolled. Jennifer describes the choice to use the Workshop approach to literacy instruction in this way, "Before I started teaching language arts through the workshop approach, I had partner reading set up, and I wasn’t liking the way it flowed. The kids seemed bored, and they weren’t really helping one another, and I always understood partner reading to be one of those where they can help each other, and they can reflect together. I felt that it needed to be reevaluated. I also had literacy centers, but the kids didn’t like it. They felt like it was kind of busywork. The way we had it set up, we had it in 15 minute increments, because my guided reading group was for 15 minutes each, so when that group finished, the kids who were working in a center, if they were the next group, they were never able to finish their work. It was very frustrating for them."
Lucinda Pease-Alvarez directs the teacher education program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she is also an associate professor of education. Her teaching and scholarship focuses on the development of language and literacy in bilingual populations and how teachers working with bilingual populations are making sense of top-down initiatives mandating standardized approaches to teaching. The ways in which she made use of the K-12 websites changed in response to the context facing many of her teacher education students. She explained, "Teacher education students assigned to student teaching placements with predominantly low-income bilingual students were working in schools and districts where teachers were required to use state adopted curriculum. In addition, because students in these classrooms were did not doing well on the CST, teachers working in these classrooms were being pressured to teach in ways that were thought to enhance students’ performance on this test, which contrasted markedly with the progressive and critical pedagogical approaches that teacher education were reading about in their coursework at UCSC. My teacher education students were outraged."
Kathy Schultz was a classroom teacher and principal and teacher for 10 years in Philadelphia prior to getting her doctorate in education. She currently teaches a course on teaching reading and writing in the elementary classroom at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition, she directs the teacher education program and the new Center for Collaborative Research and Practice in Teacher Education. Among many research projects, she has been documenting how graduates of the Penn GSE teaching programs enact the practices learned in the teaching programs as they begin their careers. She is also interested in documenting the formal and support systems beginning teachers draw on in their early years of teaching. She will soon initiate a comparative study of the alternative routes to teaching connected to the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. In her second year of documenting her work with the K-12 web-sites, Kathy has begun to expand her documentation and exploration of student teacher learning. Reflecting on the ways that she has documented the learning of her students, Kathy says, "During the final class of the semester, I asked the student teachers to plan their first day of school and to pay particular attention to the classroom rituals and routines they would introduce on this initial day of school. These gave me a sense of which ideas were most salient to them for organizing how they would teach literacy in their own elementary classrooms…A second activity we did together on that final day of class was a carousel activity where they were asked to reflect on several aspects of the course noting what they learned and what questions remain."